Historic Hawaiian artefacts head home

The cloak has been away from its Hawaiian home for more than 200 years (Nina Burton / Newshub.)
The cloak has been away from its Hawaiian home for more than 200 years (Nina Burton / Newshub.)

A more than 200-year-old royal feather cloak and helmet gifted to Captain James Cook by a Hawaiian chief will make is way home after being housed in New Zealand for a century.

The items, of major cultural significance to the US state, will be returned to a delegation from Hawaii during a ceremony at Te Papa this morning.

Historic Hawaiian artefacts head home


Still brightly coloured by orange and yellow feathers after 237 years, the 'ahu 'ula (cloak) and mahiole (helmet) will now make their way back to be displayed at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Te Papa chief executive Rick Ellis says the museum is "thrilled and honoured" to be able to repatriate the items -- a deal done in partnership with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Bishop Museum.

The cloak and helmet were meticulously made, with the former needing feathers from around 20,000 birds.

Historic Hawaiian artefacts head home


Trappers caught the birds mid-flight using nets or decoy birds to lure them to branches coated with a sticky substance. They wouldn't kill them, instead harvesting a few feathers and then releasing them.

They both have great spiritual value for the Hawaiian people, with the featherwork on the cloak reserved specifically for royalty and symbolising their chiefly divinity, rank and power.

The items also represent an important time in Hawaii's history.  

In 1779, the chief of Hawaii Island, Kalaiopu, greeted Captain Cook when he arrived in Kealakekua Bay and as a gesture of goodwill gave him the cloak and helmet he was wearing.

The artefacts ended up in England and eventually in the care of Lord St Oswald, who presented his entire collection to the Dominion Museum -- the predecessor to Te Papa-- in New Zealand in 1912.

Ka Pouhana (chief executive) of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Kamana'opono Crabbe, says it's an honour to see the heirlooms return home.

"I'm grateful to witness the return of these cultural heirlooms, and how it is being made possible by the kōkua of many in both New Zealand and Hawaii.

"The return of the 'ahu 'ula and mahiole to Hawaii is a cause for celebration and it will be a source of inspiration, reflection and discussion amongst native Hawaiians, Hawaii residents and visitors alike."

Discussions to return the cloak and helmet began in 2013 and the items will go on display from March 19.